In May 2010, Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city with a population of 5.5 million, witnessed heatwaves with record-breaking temperatures that exacted a toll of 4,462 lives. This was 1,344 deaths more than the toll in May 2009. The high mortality shocked the Amdavad Municipal Corporation (AMC), public health experts and institutes, civil society groups and other stakeholders, who joined hands to prepare a comprehensive Heat Action Plan (HAP) in 2013.
A first in South Asia, the HAP’s primary goal was to create public awareness about extreme climates and necessary steps to tackle it and save lives.
A collaborative project
The civic body tied up with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, Indian Institute of Public Health, U.S.-based non-profit advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, and the U.K.-based Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) for the innovative project.
The plan involves community outreach initiatives, putting an early warning system in place that provides a seven-day advance forecast about high temperatures and impending heatwaves, and capacity-building of health-care professionals to treat people with heat-related complications.
A nodal officer coordinates with other agencies and groups to implement the plan in summer when temperatures go up to 48°C. Once the HAP is activated, the AMC issues colour-coded alerts or heat warnings based on weather forecasts.
For example, a yellow alert is issued when the temperature is expected to range from 41.1°C to 43°C while an orange alert indicates a range of 43.1°C-44.9°C. The red alert signifies extreme heat upwards of 45°C.
Other actions envisaged in the plan include stocking hospitals and health centres with ice packs, extra water supplies in the slums and vulnerable areas, opening drinking water centres in the city, running fountains and water sprinklers at crossroads and in gardens, and altering school and college timings to ensure that children don’t venture out during peak heat.
Success and emulation
Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Gandhinagar-based Indian Institute of Public Heath, says mortality has come down 20-25% with the implementation of the HAP. “On May 21, 2010, with the temperature at 47°C, there were 310 deaths in the city, which is 210 additional deaths compared to monthly average deaths. In May 2016, when the temperature crossed 48°C in the city, the death toll was around 250,” he says.
AMC Commissioner Mukesh Kumar says this year the HAP will be activated on April 7.
Impressed with the Ahmedabad model, civic bodies in Nagpur and Bhubaneswar have also launched a similar initiative. “Now even Karachi in Pakistan is thinking of replicating it,” says Mihir Bhatt of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, which is involved in the implementation of the HAP in the three Indian cities, adding that the most positive impact has been on street vendors, casual labourers, construction workers, traffic police and AMC staff and schoolchildren.